Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is famous for its population of several hundred critically endangered mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei). British oil company SOCO International has received two permits to undertake preliminary exploration, including seismic tests, in the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Virunga is home to 706 bird and over 218 mammal species - also including chimpanzees, hippos, lions, and forest elephants – and provides critical ecosystem services such as freshwater, and substantial revenues to local communities from gorilla tourism and fishing. Virunga is situated in highly unique yet vulnerable ecosystems, which are the source of the Congo and the Nile Rivers, and home to Lake Edward, which stretches over 2,300 km2 and supports the livelihoods of 50,000 people. The region is marked by ethnic tensions and armed militia groups, which will be exacerbated by oil exploration, with yet another conflict resource.
Local communities who live in and outside Virunga National Park, all within SOCO’s Block V, are saying NO to ANY oil development (exploration and exploitation) in Virunga National Park. Communities ask SOCO to respect international and national environmental standards in the extractive sector and to take into account their specific needs. SOCO’s two permits were signed by DRC’s hydrocarbons and environment ministries despite a previously announced commitment by the government to suspend oil exploration in the park pending the result of a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), to be complete in late 2012. Oil development in Virunga National Park is prohibited by both DRC law and international conventions, yet 85% of the park has been allocated as oil concessions. It is reported SOCO is pushing ahead with plans to establish a camp in the fishing community of Nyakakoma, in the heart of the Park. SOCO has previously been accused by the Park’s managers of entering Virunga illegally. There are two other European oil companies involved: Dominion (UK ) and Total (French), and Albatros (US) may also be taking part. The involvement of European companies is particularly shocking as the EU has been a long term funder of conservation in Virunga National Park, and is also funding the SEA.
Deforestation in the Congo Basin has doubled since the 1990s. A poorly governed resource boom is imminent, as 25-year rainforest logging concessions covering hundreds of thousands of hectares have also recently been issued, including to Lebanese business interests with links to Hezbollah. The Forest Stewardship Council – with WWF, Greenpeace and Rainforest Action Network participation – are also exerting tremendous pressure to open the area to certified, “sustainable” industrial primary forest logging - which would in essence turn much of the country into diminished tree plantations. Thus, everyone from international environmental organizations, to foreign logging and mining interests, want to have a piece of the Congo – rather than working to keep standing old forests fully intact – to benefit local and global ecology, and local development aspirations – forever. Standing old forests are worth much more to the average Congo citizen than a once off industrial plunder by foreign interests. And globally, further rainforest ecocide for oil must end if we are to sustain global ecosystems and our one shared biosphere. Please take action together now for Earth.
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Gorillas and intact ancient rainforests more precious than oil or gold
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